Hardware

Why is buying computer hardware so much work?


Why is buying computer hardware so much work? To be sure, there are some components like power supplies, most peripherals, and so on that are pretty straightforward to choose. Even some of the more complex hardware, like hard drives and motherboards are pretty easy to select; you decide which features you need, and find which parts have those features. But selecting CPUs and video cards is nearly impossible.

A long time ago, CPUs were easy to select; you just bought the highest clock cycle CPU you could find. You chose Intel because you did not have a choice (or much of one, at least; non-Intel CPUs tended to not be very good). Now, there are dozens of families of CPUs from more than one manufacturer (Intel, AMD, and more, if you count the less mainstream CPUs). Each family has its own benefits and drawbacks, and pure CPU speed is less of a determining factor for end game performance than it used to be. Would a dual core CPU at 2.0 gHz per core be better than a single core CPU at 3.0 gHz? It all depends on your needs. What about cache? Coprocessors? And so on. At the very moment, the choice is fairly easy: the Core 2 Duo (Conroe) CPUs from Intel are beating the competition, even when compared to much more expensive CPUs. But no one expects that to last, and the last month or so has been the first time in a while that CPU selection was fairly easy. But even when it has been confusing, the simple rule that never went wrong was to get as much cache, clock cycles, and cores as possible.

Video cards, on the other hand, have never been simple, and probably never will be. This is what I have been stuck on for some time with my recent quest to upgrade and revamp my home network and computers. Picking out everything else was pretty painless, with the exception of deciding how much I wanted to spend on hard drives and if I preferred RAID 1 with two smaller drives to one smallish drive for data and a big drive for backups (I decided to go with RAID 1, it was cheaper and will be faster). But the video card is still killing me.

I went to Tom's Hardware Guide, and I will tell you, that site is positively worthless. I really do not see why people treat it like it is the source of all hardware information. It is not. I read the guide to video cards, and what the site calls a "about $200 video card" was listed for no less than $250; indeed, even on the site's links to vendors, they were listing that "about $200 video card" for "about $300"! The recommendations could not even be found at half of the sites that I prefer to shop at.

I think video cards are a hoax at this point; someone wants me to give up and just spend whatever my maximum budget is, and hope that I get the best card possible. It is ridiculous.

Buying computer hardware gives me severe heartburn. Following hardware trends is an exercise in futility, as whatever I learn today is useless tomorrow. There are no good ways to directly compare too many components, and all too often my choice is to pay for features I do not want, or not get features I do want to remain within budget. Overall, the process kills me and I wish it was easier.

J.Ja

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

3 comments
AstroCreep
AstroCreep

But I don't think it's that bad. I've been buying all of the desktop/server equipment at my work now for the last three years, and basically, it's just finding equipment that works well for your users, and sticking with it until it's replaced by newer versions. At this point, we like hp's AMD desktops, but I am being courted by Dell a bit. But I understand what you mean by the whole 'video card conundrum', but luckily I work in what is pretty much an office environment and most of our users are good with the on-board vga, and only the graphic artists and engineer/CAD operators need a discreet solution, but even they don't need anything too powerful, as most of the CAD operators work in 2d (autocad lt), and the artists are only working with things like Adobe CS. Oh, and as far as Tom's goes, I really don't like that site; they seem too Intel biased for me to take them seriously on reviews. Check out Anandtech.com every now & again for reviews/price guides too.

fungus-among-us
fungus-among-us

Everyone comparison shops... be it computer components, automobiles, or groceries. If you didn't, then I want to be included in your will. I agree with the suggestions both repliers posted (mainly... chill out). Tom's Hardware (site) has been going down hill for some time. The reviews are biased, and offer very little insightful information that isn't already being reported by others in the hardware community. Anandtech.com has several "buyer's guides" with LIVE (let me repeat that... LIVE (also know as "real time")) pricing. Granted, assembling components to build a computer is not exactly the same as going to your local dealership and buying a car, but building a computer from components is similar to a car enthusiast picking out high-performance or modifications for his/her car... there IS lots of reasearch involved. If you're NOT willing to spend that time, then a pre-assembled system from Dell, Gateway or an off the shelf system may suit your needs... or should I say, relieve your grief. Complaining about how difficult it is these days to "assemble" a computer from components, may prevent new comers from attempting to build one themselves, but will not get any empathy or sympathy from those of us who already assemble our own. P.S. Picking out a power Supply isn't a matter of picking a brand, pretty color, or total maximum wattage anymore, you do need to know the max AMPS each voltage rail can handle, as well as if the power Supply has all the correct connectors needed for your particular setup.

Bill_Bright
Bill_Bright

I think you bring up some good points, but I think you need to chill a little too. The rapid advances in technology is a good thing, and the phenomenon of your HW going obsolete the day you buy it is not new. Those of us who got into audiophile quality stereo equipment in the 70's - when "high fidelity" went through the same rapid advances of the "cutting edge". I personally like Tom's Hardware - their reviews are worth reading. While their prices may be off, note that pricing is as fluid in the computer world, as it is with gas prices. I think it is fair to say the prices they published were probably correct for the day the article was written - not the day you read it. I would much rather have too many choices, then too little. And sites like Tom's are very beneficial in choosing what I want. If you just want a PC without having to make many decisions, call Dell. I approach it a different way. I go to my favorite retail site - NewEgg, ZipZoomFly, MWave, or whatever, and find their offerings in my budget range. Enter the make and model of one that interest me, and the word "review" in Google - and see what others say about that item.

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